When doctors talk about rhythm, we’re usually referring to the heart. As we check your pulse and listen to your heart, we make note of the rate (Is it fast or slow?) and the rhythm (Is it regular or irregular? Are there pauses or extra beats?).
I frequently pick up arrhythmias (or irregular heart rhythms) when patients come in for a blood pressure measurement. They may be feeling perfectly well if the rate is not fast or slow enough to cause lightheadedness or fainting.
We also make note of other rates and rhythms as each patient breathes, speaks and moves.
A very depressed patient may speak and move more slowly. There may be long pauses between words. Patients who are manic often demonstrate pressure of speech. Their thoughts may fly such that they can hardly get the words out fast enough. A stressed or anxious patient may speak and move so quickly that they make people around them feel anxious themselves.
Of course, an over or underactive thyroid gland can mimic the symptoms of anxiety and depression, respectively.
Just as most of us are not aware of the rates and rhythms of our hearts as we move through our days, we can take for granted the pace with which we live our lives.
Ideally, we simply adjust our rhythms to the demands of the moment. This week as families adjust to a new school year, parents and children attempt to synchronize their clocks and somehow manage to get to school and work on time – give or take a few minutes – without everyone getting stressed out.
I have patients whose work and personal lives are so jammed pack that they have difficulty slowing down even when they’ve arrived at my office. The demands of their lives have forced them into a frenetic rhythm that they recognize is both uncomfortable and unhealthy.
For some young parents, coming to the doctor’s office alone is one of the few breaks they may have during the week. Most of them recognize that this is the rhythm and pace of this stage in their family’s life. At times, they reminisce about life before kids.
Most of my family practice colleagues have frenetic work lives. There is always the pressure of time, punctuated by interruptions, unexpected problems and counselling visits, and the need to be fully present for each individual.
Some doctors have told me that they don’t even have time to go to the washroom. But don’t ask your doctors if they’ve had a break. It might remind them that they really have to go.
We all need to adjust the rhythm and rates with which we live our lives. We need breaks throughout the day when we can pause, take a health break and change gears. We can fall into unhealthy rhythms out of habit or succumbing to the demands of others.
We can be entrained by the rhythms of the people around us – coworkers, friends and family. An overworked mom or dad can stress the entire family. If we don’t attend to and adjust the pace of our lives, it can affect our health, our performance and our relationships.
Today, take a pulse check. How is the rhythm of your life? Are there times you need to slow down or speed up? Is the rhythm of your family life a lullaby, a dance or hard rock?
This Sunday, September 8th, the Burnaby Hospital Foundation’s Rhythm of Life Run, Walk & Fair will be held at Burnaby Lake. I’ll be there with other family doctors showing our support for the health of our community, but after the run, I won’t be checking anyone’s pulse but my own.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre and chair of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice. For more information about the Rhythm of Life fair, check the Burnaby Hospital Foundation’s website at http://www.bhfoundation.ca